Friday, April 21, 2006

Hard as Rocks

I’m falling apart and I don’t know what to do but write it down.
My puppy is gone.
Puppy sounds like a fluffy, irresolute word, but she was anything but. She was marvelous. She was a gift from God. I just wish He hadn’t needed her back.
I remember the day she arrived. Oh how we had longed for a dog! My younger brother and I had positively hounded our parents our entire verbal lives. Once we moved into a house of our own with a yard we could fence-in, my mother ran out of excuses. I remember the morning after we brought her home. I was so excited to just have a puppy that I opened up her kennel and just stood and marveled at her. That was my first mistake, she peed on the rug. She was really quick to decide she would rather keep such bodily functions outside. Up until the bitter end she was valiant with her efforts, although it got remarkably hard for her later on.

We couldn’t decide what to name her at first. I was eight years old and had daydreams of a fluffy white cat named Skittles. My entire family is allergic to cats, so I knew that wasn’t going to work out. I decided to keep the name and make a new dream out of it. My brother, who was six, wanted to name her Bubble Gum. We decided to use both names and see what stuck. I won.

When she was young, Skittles would dash around our big back yard with remarkable gusto for such a small dog. My dad once remarked that she looked very much like a rabbit the way she ran. She hasn’t been able to run like that in a long while, but it’s a lovely memory.

From the get-go, Skittles was a dog that loved to cuddle. She loved people, and craved quiet attention. Nothing made her more content than curling up next to you while you read or slept. And she was the ideal mini-therapist. She had some sort of radar in place that told her when someone needed to be comforted. She was there in a moment, trying to lick tears from your face and curling up on your lap while you tried to make sense of the world. Is there anything in all the world more comforting than that?

We (at least I) ended up needing Skittles as a mini-family-therapist way too often. There were innumerable crises, including my Dad’s propane explosion, my first boyfriend who was a frightening mistake, moving to a new house in a new city, anxiety about starting college, anxiety (and the subsequent melt-down) about getting married (perfectly glad I went through with it by the way), and then she even managed to comfort us this entire week even though she was the reason we were so sad. Now that she’s not here to console me I feel quite utterly lost.

Not long after I moved away to college she started losing her sight (she was over 10 years old by then). By the end she was stone blind, and the repeated experience of running into things head-on made her a little more wary and a little less friendly than was her nature. But that wasn’t her fault at all. And once she knew who you were and had an idea of where she was, she would be back to her old self.

I think I learned more about forgiveness from Skittles than from anything or anyone else. I don’t know if she just had short term memory loss, but she was incapable of holding a grudge. If she got dropped or stepped on or yelled at, it was only a matter of moments before she was back at your feet, willing to do anything for you. Is it any wonder that I felt I owed her so much? Somehow, without meeting any tangible calculable need, she just managed to take care of me, and of all of us. Isn’t it a need to feel unconditionally loved?

Today was as hard as rocks, and I’ve cried so hard I hurt all over. I’m still crying at the drop of a hat. I came home from work as early as I could manage. I bought her the softest dog treats I could find (her teeth suffered through the years along with everything else.) I took a blanket out on the front lawn and I just let her be with me. I didn’t get to say everything I wanted to, not nearly enough thanks. She was tired and a little wary of the world, but still herself underneath.

My little sister and I decided to give her one last bath. She’s never been really fond of baths, but it seemed like the right thing to do. She was angelically cooperative. Maybe she knew more than I thought she did. Then we took her down to my room in the basement (where she normally hasn’t been allowed – new carpet and incontinent dog you see…) She settled down on my lap in a manner that was full of trust. I just touched and petted her and tried to memorize how she felt and how she smelled. She had a unique smell to her up close, the smell of her skin.

For the rest of the evening she was held almost constantly, mostly by my sister and me. I was already in frequent hysterics. My dad asked whether I wanted to be in the room. I said yes. Everyone held her one last time, and my mother took a few photos. Somehow it almost went without saying that I would be the one to hold her when it happened. I wanted to be there for her, I wanted to help her be calm. She cried out when the needle went in. I sobbed. I so badly wanted her to be calm. The calmness came inevitably with the shot, and we were all crying the loud heavy painful sobs. I held her close to me, rocked, and whispered “Shh Shh Shh” as best I could while sobbing. Then I could tell she was leaving, and so fast. “I love you, I love you….” I couldn’t say it enough. “We love you…” I hope to God she heard me. I hope she can forgive me one more time. I hope there is someone for her to cuddle with wherever she is. I hope she still loves me.

I couldn’t watch them bury her. I don’t think I wanted that memory. It hurt my heart in newly discovered places to go back inside the house without her. And of course there are ghosts all over the house. One of the first things I’m accustomed to hearing every morning is the patter of her feet on the tile above us. She would consistently wait for us outside the bathroom in the mornings and then sit at my feet while I got ready for work. And the first step down from the kitchen to the basement? That was her spot. Her food and water dishes are still there, but she is not.

So far everyone is coping their own way. I cried with my little sister for a while, then I cried with Mr. Renn for a long while. Mr. Renn is far more wonderful than I expected him to be. He used more Kleenex than anyone else. Then I went and took a long hot shower and sobbed. I had a long and laborious struggle with God in there. I struggle with the difference between believing and knowing. I believe Skittles is okay. I believe she’s forgiven me and still loves me to bits. I believe she’ll still take care of my family from where she is. But I don’t know it the way I know she is gone. That is hard. So here’s to hoping that my faith is strengthened. Here’s to remembering and honoring a splendid old lady, who happened to be a dog.


--jeff * said...


through my misty eyes i want to echo the indescribable blessings that animals bring to our awkward human lives, but there is nothing that was not better said in your eulogy to skittles.
be it her unconditional love or her short term memory, she will be there to greet you in heaven.

Cam said...

Dear M,

You've mentioned in several of your blog posts that you were embarrassed to find yourself crying at work while writing down your thoughts. Now you are not alone, as your touching eulogy to Skittles has me trying not to bawl out loud at work. "Old Yeller" and "Where the Red Fern Grows" are not a whit ahead of your relationship with Skittles. Intense grieving is a normal part of the process when dealing with loss, especially of someone as special to you as Skittles. I concur with the comments about how fortunate it was that your Dad was able to help your family through this difficult transition in the familar surroundings of your own home rather than having a complete stranger do the deed on a cold, sterile, stainless steel table in an unfamiliar place while family members agonize in the waiting room.

When Warren was still a teenager, he made the difficult decision to put down his beagle "Ginger", whom we all liked, but not to the degree you love Skittles. I remember how hard it was. The difficult memories and feelings eventually fade, leaving behind the best of the memories of good times, along with treasured pictures of the same.

I, too, hope for, and have faith in, pets in heaven.

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